Health Team

Study: Religious belief plays role in treatment of terminally cancer patients

Posted March 17, 2009 5:40 p.m. EDT
Updated March 17, 2009 6:50 p.m. EDT

Many patients with advanced cancer turn to their religious beliefs to cope.

“It’s relying on your faith to help you deal with your terminal illness,” said Holly Prigerson, of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

To better understand the effects religion might have on these patients' medical care, researchers studied the treatment that 345 patients with advanced cancer received until their deaths. Attention was paid to how religion may predict subsequent care.

“We wanted to get a reflection of how the normal ways people use their faith to cope would influence their treatment decisions,” Dr. Andrea Phelps, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

The study, which is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found patients with a high level of religious coping were about three times as likely to receive mechanical ventilation and intensive life-prolonging care during their last week of life as were   patients with little or no religious coping.

A majority of patients said they were of a Christian faith.

The findings may give clinicians greater insight into their terminally ill patients, researchers say.

“We need to understand that our patients are relying on their faiths to understand their illness and to make decisions … difficult decisions about care at the end of life,” Phelps said.